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An environmentalist’s inspiration

September 27, 2021

Get to know one of Avenue Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40, Briana Loughlin, and how backpacking in the Southern Hemisphere propelled her to become the Co-Founder and Director of Inspiration and Change at Plastic-Free YYC in Canada.

Briana’s Working Holiday experience opened her eyes to the beauty of nature. Through PFYYC, Briana is helping to make a difference and ‘spark a change for a healthier planet’.

Travel bug

Woman on the beach, smiling for the camera
Briana was able to enjoy travel around Australia and New Zealand after her first year of university

After one year in university, Briana and her best friend decided to take a year off to travel the world. In 2003, they purchased a car and a tent and travelled around New Zealand, exploring the North and South islands, before making her way to Australia for a working holiday.

“There was definitely some apprehension when I told my parents that school would have to wait so I could travel. Like many parents, getting an education was a priority to finding success. However, in my first year of college, my first year on my own, living with friends, my priority was not learning. It was more about having fun and finding myself. I decided if I wasn’t dedicated to my studies, it wasn’t the best use of my time or money. So, when summer began, I started working tirelessly at three different jobs to save for my trip. My parents realized that my plan to travel was not simply a postponement of responsibility. In fact, it was the opposite. I was taking this seriously and the process of working hard and buckling down to save for something big was a key lesson in the process.”

During her time in Australia, not only did Briana learn work-related skills but also things like surfing and ‘reading the waves’ for riptides. Experience in travelling taught her how to budget, be independent, as well as engage with new people.

In the middle of the Australian winter, Briana travelled to Cairns. There she learned how to scuba dive and experienced the beauty and majesty of the Great Barrier Reef. “I’ll never forget the colourful and magnificent life below the water, life I now pledge myself to saving from destruction.”

Backpacking: then vs now

“The purity I found in New Zealand (NZ) was unique. Being able to disconnect from the hustle and reconnect with nature, in the vineyard or on the beach, resonated through me and I wanted to share that feeling with others.”

Briana felt that the country was unique. “There’s an older feel to the country where people can still live simply if they choose. For instance, New Zealanders tend to eat more seasonally and locally. They also value a strong work-life balance: you will be hard-pressed to find a 24-hr grocery store or pharmacy, and over the holidays, good luck on finding anything open. They all seem to live a little more in tune with their home and their natural surroundings. It’s refreshing.”

“Returning to scene in 2012, everyone had a smart phone and/or a laptop, free wifi is everywhere, and calling home through the internet was a breeze. It is all too easy now to stay connected, but this can also hinder your experience in the new place you are living, so be sure to unplug your devices and just BE where you are, with your journal and your new-found friends.”

Journaling, says Briana, was a great way to really live in the moment but to also embrace and manage feelings of homesickness. This, along with talking to strangers and getting involved in the community, allowed Briana to “appreciate the experience more; where I was and what I was doing. It provided clarity on who I was then and who I was becoming.”

Working in a vineyard

Woman sitting on the ground beside rows of grape vines
She worked on a small, family-run vineyard near Muriwai a coastal community of the Auckland region

Whilst in NZ, Briana found work in a vineyard in the North Island. Briana was able to see how the industry operated from start to finish “I was given the opportunity to learn the things l love and hate about both types of roles hands-on farming vs professional sales & marketing) and eventually figure out what type of career I want to pursue.”

When she returned to Canada, Briana used this knowledge to embark on a career in wine sales spanning almost 5 years.

It was when a friend told her that plastic in the ocean was fake news that she realised how far she had diverted from her passion and her pledge. She had seen the tragedy of plastic in the ocean and the destruction it could cause. As a result, she decided she wanted to reconnect with her fellow &lsquo land-locked Albertans.’ and this gave Briana the insight and desire to step up and make change, “A reason why I started&nbsp Plastic-Free YYC.”

Plastic-Free YYC

Woman standing in front of a video camera, being interviewed
Plastic Free YYC has been featured on local news stations in Calgary

Plastic-Free YYC (PFYYC)” started with a simple website/blog and grew into a team of 16 volunteers in less than a year. PFYYC engages with all tiers of the community, citizens, businesses and government. Their team works to create meaningful, educational events throughout the Calgary. It is also working with the City of Calgary on how to reduce Construction and Demolition Waste.

“The simple experience of creating a movement and watching it grow has been astounding. The support and excitement this little organisation has received has been humbling. I have learned so much, not only about how to start a non-profit, but also developed my leadership capability,” Briana shares.

In October 2020, Briana received a Top 40 under 40 award for her environmental advocacy work.

What has your Working Holiday inspired you to do? To share your story email

International Experience Canada (IEC) began in the 1950s as a cultural exchange initiative. Today, IEC supports Canada’s interests by administering Youth Mobility Arrangements (including Working Holiday) with 30+ countries and territories. The agreement between Canada and Australia started in 1975 and is currently reciprocal in the number of inbound and outbound participants.

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